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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

2017 - The Books

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 15, 2017


The new year of 2017 is full of exciting technology within the library system.  Numerous downloadable products are available to library users, as well as access to millions and millions of pages of online information sources.


Last week I discussed online magazine subscriptions, eBooks, Children’s games and readers, movies and documentaries, to name only a few things available with your library card.


And of course, there are books – those paperbound things that have been around since the printing press was invented.


There is a misconception that libraries have tossed out all of our books and the place is just a storehouse for computers.


Well, there are a handful of eLibraries in the U.S., but for the most part, libraries are still full of books which are being checked out in the same huge numbers that they have been in recent history.


The transition that is taking place in public libraries is that we are creating more people space and programming, public computers, and Wi-Fi, and access to more books than ever occupied space on our bookshelves through automated catalogs of a growing number of library collections.


There are some situations in our library where technology is actually replacing the books-on-the-shelves, primarily in the area of what librarians used to call “Reference,” relating to the purpose of those particular books.


Those large, matching volumes of books usually separated from the ones that people checked out on a regular basis; have and are being replaced with online systems.


Encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, and various sets of books on areas of knowledge are being replaced by a few companies producing online systems that are updated daily with new and additional information.


Those large volume books with the matching spines, often used by librarians as a backdrop to photos and interviews by media are indeed disappearing from libraries.


At the same time, various estimates for new books published in the world in 2016 exceed 1 million in addition to the 15 million titles published in previous years still available for purchase.


Some are published in paper only, some in both paper and eContent, and a few only in eContent.


It is causing librarians to turn gray (too late for me) as libraries try to figure out the small number they can purchase for library collections and what they can obtain from other sources to fill the demand of their users.


Self-publishing has exploded the number of books on today’s markets.


Our library system has about 190,000 paper-formatted books on our shelves, showing probably 100,000 titles.  Our online catalog accesses about 7 million more items in 92 library systems, and there seems to be a bazillion possible book titles out there.


Not counting the seemingly never ending number of documents, pamphlets, and information sources, how does a public library serve the public these days locating and obtaining all this stuff?


That is why we are still here in 2017 amid a society whose other long-standing institutions have disappeared and faded away when it appears everything is at the end of a string marked “Google.”


That first evening I worked in a public library, Dec. 22, 1970, found me at the business end of a Book Charger clunking away checking out books to people, and the first question I received was what the title was of a novel written by Victoria Holt.


And that is what has happened to our public libraries in those 46 years that have passed --- we have retained the sense of information management contained in Holt’s books, and expanded it a million-fold to every type and sense of information that did exist, now exists, and will exist in today’s world.


And that little library card still serves as the key to all of it, some in that classic library building that has always been there, or new buildings that now exist, or in those computer banks of routers and servers that speed information among the libraries and out to the public.